The first day of free agency is in the books and there was plenty of cash slung around. This should be no surprise, with the salary cap spiking again this year and teams no longer sweating out cap concerns on a league-wide basis. There are enough questionable teams willing to get aggressive/desperate in trying to contend that it’s not odd to see a bunch of big contracts (some of which will end up being smaller when we get the full deals later) and as always is the case with early action bidders, we saw plenty of funny money tossed around.

Those kinds of deals mean that some people won and some people lost. Which means it’s time for knee-jerk reactions related to the opening day of free agency. If someone’s a loser, I don’t think they’ll fail forever in life, it just means I didn’t love how this first day played out for them. The reverse can be true for the winners. 

If you want a more in-depth breakdown, check out the Pick Six Podcast — our daily NFL show — for full reactions on all of the signings every single day. Fire over your hate mail to me on Twitter @WillBrinson.

WINNERS

Derek Carr

TBD on this until the draft actually happens and we know that Jon Gruden hasn’t gone off the rails and decided to draft three more quarterbacks with his three first round picks (you never know) but as of right now, Carr’s had a great start to the offseason in terms of pieces being put around him. First of all, it’s hard to do better than going from an aged Jordy Nelson as your top receiver to Antonio Brown as your top receiver, which is what Carr did over the weekend when the Raiders traded for Brown, netting the Steelers receiver for a third and a fifth round pick. The Raiders also splurged in free agency on Monday, signing tackle Trent Brown to a massive deal to be Carr’s blindside protector

Signing Brown feels a LOT like last offseason’s Nate Solder deal: former Patriots left tackle goes into free agency, there are tons of teams who need offensive line help and gets paid a bunch of money despite questions about where said tackles resides in the upper echelon of players at the position. Which is a long way of saying that it’s insane for the Raiders to give Brown this much money after seeing him play well down the stretch of a single season for the Pats. The move from Dante Scarnecchia to Tom Cable is a major concern. Also concerning: the Raiders drafted Kolten Miller last year in the first round and just 10 days ago, Jon Gruden described him as a guy who could be a Pro Bowl left tackle for years. Either the Raiders are moving Miller to the right side or they just paid an absolutely obscene amount for their right tackle. 

But as far as Carr goes, he just had his boss go out and spend a ton of money to land a starting left tackle that some folks believe can still manage to keep up the level of play he displayed while with the Patriots. If he does, and if Brown can be the guy we saw in Pittsburgh, Carr could have a major bounceback season in his second year with Gruden. 

Earl Thomas

The future Hall of Fame safety wins in a big way because of all the other safeties who got paid. Out of the gate we saw the Redskins inexplicably give Landon Collins a deal that’s worth $84 million over six years, and which blows everything else in terms of safety contracts out of the water — Collins is a good player, but he just got paid like the best safety in all of football. He’s still young (25) and he was a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate early on in his career. If he returns to his All-Pro form this will look like a fine contract. If he’s anything other than a top-five safety for the life of this deal or if he ends up struggling in coverage, this is going to look like one of those throwback Redskins free agency moves. 

Tyrann Mathieu scored a three-year, $42 million deal from the Chiefs, a deal that I like because of his versatility and how badly the Chiefs need help on the defensive side of the ball. Mathieu can move all over the place, playing nickel, playing safety, stopping the run and lining up outside if he needs. The Chiefs need that kind of versatility on the defensive side of the ball. He has to stay healthy for this deal to be worth it, but I like the gamble. 

Thomas wins here because there were concerns about how the safety market would play out after being extremely slow last year. Those concerns have been completely alleviated — LaMarcus Joyner also got a boatload of money from the Raiders and Kenny Vaccaro got $26 million from the Titans. Meaning Thomas should pretty easily be able to get the $15 million a year he wants over a two-year deal. Credit David Mulugheta for a big deal: he’s landed money for Vaccaro and Collins already, with Thomas to come. Nice offseason for him in the safety market.

Bill Belichick free agents

A pair of guys who played for the Patriots hit free agency and cashed in big time on the open market. Both Trent Brown and Trey Flowers were, inherently, overpaid in free agency. 

As for Flowers, there are conflicting reports on this one as to whether or not it is $16 or $17 million heading toward Flowers, but either way it is a lot of money for the former fourth-round pick by the Patriots. Detroit’s aggressively signed a lot of former New England standouts, which is not surprising considering the Bob Quinn/Matt Patricia combo in Detroit. But it’s not really the “Patriot Way” to make it rain in free agency on players that the Patriots let go; the Titans and Lions have willfully ignored that theory. Still, there’s no doubt that Flowers was the best available free agent pass rusher on the market and it’s important to have quality pass rushers on your team. Flowers is another ascending young player — he’ll turn 26 before the season — and the Lions purchased him for his prime. He only has 21 sacks over the last three years, so he would need to take a step forward in Patricia’s defense for this to be a fully justified deal. The positional value and age bumps it up in terms of a grade for me, especially since Flowers should operate well next to Damon Harrison and D’Shaun Hand. 

As always, Belichick is the true winner here: those guys are going to net him a pair of third-round compensatory picks in next year’s NFL draft by developing a pair of guys and letting them walk into free agency. The Patriots are good at this football thing. 

LOSERS

Jacksonville Jaguars

Signing Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million ($50 million guaranteed) contract was a necessary move by the Jaguars, who have been hampered by a lack of a starting quarterback for years. Blake Bortles cost them an opportunity to contend outside of their run to the AFC Championship Game two years ago. But this is a crazy amount of money for Jacksonville. Who were they bidding against? I heard it explained on NFL Network that the Jags needed to pay Foles legit starting quarterback money to garner the respect of everyone in the building when he arrives. I can see that being the logic but it doesn’t mean the logic is sound. Foles has a Super Bowl MVP award but the Jags were bidding against themselves and just got locked into Foles for a ridiculous sum of money. Don’t give me the “it’s the cost of doing business” line, because that’s what got the Jaguars in this situation to begin with, when they extended Bortles last year.

San Francisco 49ers

In just a few short years as GM of the Niners, John Lynch has shown he is not afraid to go out on the market and pay up for someone he wants, regardless of position. This year’s big winner? Kwon Alexander, who netted a surprising four-year, $54 million deal from San Francisco. That contract makes Alexander the highest-paid inside linebacker in all of football as he now makes more than $1 million per year more than Luke Kuechly. That feels like it might not work out entirely well for them over the life of the deal. Alexander is still very young, as he won’t turn 25 until August. So the 49ers are buying his prime and he tore his ACL early enough last season that returning for the start of 2019 shouldn’t be a problem. But this is a linebacker who has only gone over 100 tackles once in his four seasons. He does have a penchant for being a ballhawk though, recording six picks in those four seasons along with six forced fumbles and 22 passes defensed. It’s just surprising to see this kind of cash given out to a guy at that position with that recent injury history. It’s doubly tough after the 49ers burnt a first-round pick on Reuben Foster.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens hinged last season, and much of the last few seasons, on their defense. Lamar Jackson and the rushing attack late in the season were a huge plus and changed how they operated, but the defense was the ultimate key. Here’s the problem for Baltimore: they’re losing everyone from their defense. Eric Weddle, who was released by the Ravens, departed for the Los Angeles Rams. Say what you want about his age, but he was a key piece on the back end. On Monday, the Ravens found out Terrell Suggs would be heading in a different direction, likely signing with the Cardinals in a homecoming deal. And the contracts that linebackers have gotten out there in free agency probably means that C.J. Mosley is going to be too rich for Baltimore’s blood. They can still be good defensively, but that’s a lot of losses to take in terms of key players at every single level of their defense. 

Houston Texans

The Texans are a contender because of Deshaun Watson more than anything, but the defense also was a big plus last year in Houston’s run to the playoffs. Suddenly that defense is losing players left and right. The Texans were competitive in chasing Tyrann Mathieu but ultimately couldn’t keep the Honey Badger from walking out the door to the Chiefs, an AFC competitor. Houston also saw Kareem Jackson leave to take $33 million from the Broncos. Add in Kevin Jackson being released and they have suddenly taken some serious hits in the secondary just a few hours into free agency. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney are still the stars of this defense, but Clowney’s only on a franchise tag so his future is a little murky and Watt isn’t young. This could still be a very good defense, but it’s hard to imagine it being elite without some upgrades on the back end. 

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